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Blackfeet Names: Translating English Into Blackfoot Indian writing

One common request we get at our American Indian translation fundraiser is "How do I translate my name into Blackfoot?" Since Blackfoot has a unique writing system, it is indeed possible to spell English names using Blackfoot characters, just as you can with Japanese or Hindi characters. But since this isn't a true translation-- just a matter of using a different alphabet to spell the same word--you don't actually need a translator who speaks Blackfoot to do it for you. You can do it yourself, for free! Here's how:

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First, of course, you will need a copy of the Blackfoot writing system. We have a tutorial online on the Blackfoot alphabet which shows how to use the standard chart of Blackfoot characters. If you need a black and white version to print out, here's one:

(adapted from the syllabary chart at Omniglot)

You should follow the link and read our last tutorial to help yourself use this chart best, since it comes from the 1800's and can be tough for modern English speakers to understand. But basically, each character represents one syllable, so if your name is Mona, you would use the two characters for MO and NA, written left to right, like this: . This doesn't actually mean anything in Blackfoot, of course--it is just a way of spelling the English name Mona using the Blackfoot writing system.

Easy so far, right? Well, only if your name happens to be Mona. You see, the Blackfoot language has only 13 letters in it-- A, H, I, K, M, N, O, P, S, T, W, Y, and a glottal stop (a sound which doesn't exist in English.) So if your name includes any letter that isn't on that list, you're going to have to be creative about using the Blackfoot writing system to spell it. Here are some helpful tips:

1. Spell your name phonetically (the way it is pronounced aloud.) If your name is Mystiye but is really pronounced mis-tee, just spell it Misti for Blackfoot purposes (which will then translate nicely into the two Blackfoot syllables MIS and TI.) In particular, remember to spell a hard C as K, a soft C as S, QU as KW, and X as KS.

2. Choose the right vowels. Blackfoot consonants are easy-- they are all pronounced similar to English. But the vowels used in the Blackfoot syllabary stand for more than one vowel sound apiece. A is used for either the a in father or the u in cut. I is used for either the i in hit or the ee in bee. O is used for either the o in note or the u in put. AI is used for either the ai in paid, the e in bed or the i in bite. AO is used for either the aw in saw or the ow in cow. OI always the oi in boil. So if your name is Katy (pronounced kay-tee), you should spell it Kaiti in Blackfoot (using the two Blackfoot syllables KAI and TI.)

3. If letters in your name do not exist in Blackfoot, you will have to choose the closest alternative. Use P instead of B, T instead of D or TH, K instead of G, S instead of Z or SH, and W instead of V or F. If your name begins with an H, you will need to drop it (H's only come at the end of syllables in Blackfoot.) A long U sound as in ruler will need to be changed into an O. The foreign L and R sounds get changed to N in Blackfoot (so that the traditional Blackfoot name for "Mary" is Mani, for example.) CH and J sounds get changed to TS (so that the traditional version of Johnny is Tsani.)

These guidelines may seem confusing at first, but the good thing is that you can use them to write ANY name in Blackfoot, whereas if I just made a long list of Blackfoot Indian names and how to spell each of them, your name might still be left off the list. Even if you have a relatively newfangled name like "Makayla" or "LaTeesha," which aren't on any of the existing Blackfeet name translation lists, you can easily use the syllabary to see that they can be spelled with the three characters MA, KAI, and NA
() and the three characters NA, TI, and SA ().

If you're still confused, feel free to use our Native American names form and we can still send you a .jpg of what your name should look like in the Blackfoot syllabary--but hopefully, now you should be able to do it yourself, and for free.

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Further Reading

   Blackfoot dictionary (Amazon affiliate link)
   Blackfoot Indian language
   Blackfoot words
   Native male and female names
   Piegan Blackfoot
   Blood (Kainai) Blackfoot

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